Monday, November 29, 2010

Varsity Blues vs. All The Right Moves

(Images from

It may not be one of the world's greatest debates, but it's still fun to compare 1983's All The Right Moves and 1999's Varsity Blues.
Both tackle the world of high school football - the former takes place in a Pennsylvania steel town, the latter in rural Texas - and neither are based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, unlike 2004's Friday Night Lights.
So which is better? Well, let's take a gander.
(And before you question my credentials as a movie critic, I own both.)

The Hero - Both films earn kudos in this category. VB's Jon Moxon (James Van Der Beek) and ATRM's Stefan Djordjevic (Tom Cruise, back when he was, you know, normal) are unconventional football leads. Moxon is a back-up QB who reads Slaughterhouse-Five on the sideline and has no plans of playing football at Brown University, which has given our lad an academic scholarship. Djordjevic is a undersized cornerback - how many movies focus on the defensive backs? - who hopes to play ball in college while studying engineering. Neither of these guys wants to play in the NFL (Djordevic even laughs at a college coach who broaches the topic) which is refreshing, and neither date the captain of the cheerleading team.
(Moxon even turns her in a down in a classic scene not fit for a family-friend blog such as Prep Rally.)
Edge: All The Right Moves. You have to love a movie whose hero mans the defensive side of the ball.

The Coach - Other than his memorable cameo on Seinfeld (the scene of him biting Kramer's arm is one for the time capsule), Jon Voight owes the second wave of his career to his turn as Bud Kilmer, VB's monstrous football coach. But that's the problem - Kilmer is TOO monstrous. He rarely smiles, forces his players to play through life-threatening injuries and looks the other way when his star wide receiver drunkenly steals a police car. Sorry, but this wouldn't fly in the politically-correct 1990s, and even if it did, his players would have rebelled years ago. This was the 90s, folks, when your kids started to get some edge, (Thanks, Pearl Jam.), and would only take so much Kilmer's barking. On the flip side, Craig T. Nelson - before he landed another coaching gig - is believable as Nickerson, leader of ATRM's Ampipe Bulldogs. He's a stern piledriver, but he also has a wife and family. He wants to get out of town as much as his players do, giving him and the teenagers sort of a perverse bond. Nickerson becomes the heavy as the film develops, but a heavy with good reason.
Edge: All The Right Moves. Voight has a lot of fun chomping on the scenery, but Nelson wouldn't look out of place standing on a sideline in Anytown, U.S.A.

The Big Game - This is where ATRM takes a huge lead. Not only is the game entertaining to watch, but it reeks of realism. It doesn't hurt that Cruise played ball in high school and looks very belivable returning a pick six. But the best part is it happens in the OPENING THIRD of the movie! Yes, a sports movie that doesn't lead into The Big Game. Instead, it gets The Big Game out of the way, and deals with the aftermath.
(And like I said, the game is a keeper, especially its wrenching ending.)
And this is where VB becomes like every other jock flick - it comes down to the final play of the season, and we know who is going to win and how they are going to win, and just how they are going to celebrate. That said, it speaks volumes about VB that even though we know where it's going, we hang on for the ride anyway. And it is a lot of fun getting there.
Edge: ATRM. Watch the game and tell me you don't feel as if you can hear the band and smell the burgers.

The Look - ATRM takes place in Ampipe, a fictional steel town where the sun never shines and every pracice is conducted amidst a cold rain. You can't blame any of the players and coaches for wanting to escape. Parties take place in modest row homes and the locals hang out in a smokey watering hole replete with pool tables. It's gritty and it's real.
VB is the brainchild of MTV Films, and it looks like it. The cast is full of pretty people, the soundtrack features 90s acts such as Fastball and Collective Soul, and the whole thing has a slickness to it. That said, it gets a lot right, from the dads who spend their Saturday mornings watching practice to the former football players who can't stop reliving their glory days of yore.
Edge A push. ATRM looks more authentic, but VB looks like it is supposed to look.

Well, you know where I stand - it's All The Right Moves in a landslide. Both movies, however, are top-notch popcorn entertainment. And take it from someone who has spent over decade covering high school football in three different states - both films get it right, which is what makes them so fun to watch.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more! Being a 90's kid, I favor Varsity Blues just a bit more. Don't forget that other non-family scene that was sorta famous from VB.